Lifelong Woodridge resident Joan Collins is sworn in Monday as the village’s first-ever female mayor. Conducting the oath of office is fellow board member Isaac “Yits” Kantrowitz, while Collins’ cousin, Kathy Shapiro, looks on.
Female mayor makes history in Woodridge
Story by Dan Hust
WOODRIDGE Woodridge’s history is Joan Collins’ history, her family’s history, her hometown’s history.
And now she’s making history, having just become the village’s first female mayor in a community long known for its female “firsts.”
“We had the first female police officer and the first female firefighter [in Sullivan County],” she said in an interview this week.
The firefighter, in fact, is her cousin, Kathy Pirnos Shapiro. And the family contribution doesn’t end there: mom Ann was Woodridge’s treasurer, uncle John Pirnos was a police officer and highway employee, and cousin Wayne Pirnos served as the village’s administrator.
Indeed, Collins’ grandfather, William Panos, is depicted as the O&W Railway’s local flagman in Bob Longo’s enormous downtown mural on the side of the Slater Building.
Now it’s her turn to be a part of Woodridge’s proud history.
“I just wanted to follow in those footsteps,” she acknowledged, tears in her eyes. “My mother would have been so proud ...”
A lifelong resident, Collins was encouraged to run in the 1990s for an open village board seat by the late Joey and Arlene Messina and former Mayor Nat Kagan.
She won the first of several elections, then lost one. A bid for village justice also resulted in defeat, but Collins eventually recaptured her trustee seat, logging a cumulative 13 years on the village board.
Through it all, Woodridge’s openness and tolerance were reaffirmed even during periods of political tension.
“Like it or not, it can get rough at times,” Collins acknowledged.
But, she added, her hometown “has always been an open-minded community.”
She's heartened to see people of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and creeds within the village, co-existing peacefully and contributing to Woodridge's success. A growing group includes Orthodox Jews, who've found the village a welcoming place.
“The Orthodox community is attracted to Woodridge they like what we have to offer,” said Collins. “And they’re a wonderful addition to the community.”
They’ve also helped Woodridge’s economy, with a kosher supermarket now open year-round in the village, plus the enormous influx of visitors in the summer months.
Woodridge has around 900 full-time residents, and as of this past Monday, Collins is their new mayor, serving for at least the next two years.
“It’s something I always wanted to do,” she affirmed. “I like giving back.”
Voters evidently liked her, picking her in November over three other candidates, including the incumbent.
She’s now at work, having been sworn in at Monday’s board meeting.
“Silver Lake Dam is my No. 1 priority,” she said of a repair/replacement project long in the works. “I want to get this dam fixed and bring our lake back.”
But with revenue and expenses forming Woodridge’s biggest challenge, the new mayor is also eager to increase the tax base.
“I want to encourage more people to move into the village,” she said.
Three potential residential developments are in front of the planning board, Collins noted, explaining that the village’s current housing stock is all filled during the summer.
And while the increased revenue would be welcome in ongoing efforts to replace aging infrastructure, Collins said Woodridge’s very existence as an incorporated municipality is at stake.
Without more taxpayers, she explained, the board may have to investigate dissolution.
The village’s general fund budget is around $1.2 million, most all of it tax-supported. Woodridge employs 16 people, not including the board (trustees are paid $10,000 a year each, while Collins will earn $15,000).
The village works closely with the surrounding Town of Fallsburg sharing water, sewer and code enforcement services and having a “wonderful working relationship,” the mayor said but she’s adamant that Woodridge should maintain its own government.
“By having a village, we have a lot of good things to offer,” Collins explained, listing the police department, the planning and zoning boards, and the court as examples.
She’d like to add to those services in particular, a village website and expanded police hours. She’s also eager to finish contracts with the police and highway departments and is grateful for their efforts.
“We’ve got a great staff,” Collins said. “It’s a group of people who really care about each other.”
That includes a reshuffled board, whose trustees will be a critical part of the new mayor’s success or failure.
“They’re wonderful,” she remarked. “I can work with all of them.”
Collins will continue to be the full-time vice president of personal lines underwriting at the Woodridge-based Associated Mutual Insurance Cooperative, where she’s worked for 34 years.
She’ll also continue to write the correspondent’s column for Woodridge in the Democrat, which has gained her a devoted readership.
In the meantime, she’s ready to tackle all the extra challenges that come with being mayor.
“I’m certainly going to try my best,” she affirmed. “I do see good things happening here.”